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  • Nissan Ratzlav-Katz

Customer Relations for 87 Euros a Year

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

Long ago, in a land before Covid-19, my wife and I visited a small museum in Italy. While waiting for a guided tour to start, I went into an adjacent museum café to get a napkin. I wanted to wipe some sticky crumbs from my hands before we went in to tour the exhibits.

I did not ask for a Diet Coke, nor for a sandwich-hold-the-olives-but-with-a-little-pepper-on-the-side, to go. Just a napkin. One. That’s it.

“No. You can buy a pack of napkins at the store down the street.”

I smiled, because I thought the man behind the counter was kidding. When he did not react in kind, I asked, “Are you serious?”

“Yes,” he replied, with a sourpuss look that he must reserve just for tourists.

My first thought was, well, not fit for a family forum. But later on, I reflected a lot on this little exchange.

It’s really just a math problem.

A brief Google search turns up plain cocktail napkins that cost about 0.02 euros a piece. So, let’s say that each and every day, 365 days a year, 12 filthy-handed tourists ask for a napkin. Do you realize what a monstrous sum we would reach?

87.60 euros per year. That’s it.

If I ran the museum café, I’d probably consider the extra money spent on napkins for ungrateful parasitical tourists as a very tiny public relations expense.

Every business has its own “napkins” – little things that are helpful to our clients, that don’t cost us more than a few pennies, and that failing to do would make us look like jerks.

An example from my field, copywriting, could be a client who sends you an email, apropos of nothing, and asks if a proposal they are sending should end with “best regards” or “sincerely”.

Answer them. It’s a mere moment of your time and it makes you the hero of the day.

The cost of refusing to reply (besides ending up an anecdote in some snarky article) is creating the impression in the customer’s mind that you are not helpful. It doesn’t matter that you sweat bullets and stayed up nights on end to produce their brochure in two days, with only an interview with the company’s cleaning lady to go on. Once they expected – not unreasonably so – that you could help with such a small favor, failure to do so can (almost) overshadow all your previous hard work on their behalf.

It is an interesting dilemma. If we do small things our clients expect us to do, they don’t think anything of it. But if we don’t do them, then it can cause serious damage to our relationships with current and, possibly, future clients.

Via Cecco Angiolieri, Siena, Tuscany 2009
Via Cecco Angiolieri, Siena, 2009


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